Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Sen. Gary Winfield listens to Sen. John Kissel’s question (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — The Senate early Wednesday forwarded legislation to the House that would prohibit any law enforcement officer or judicial official from enforcing a civil detainer issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency unless it’s accompanied by a warrant.

Connecticut passed a law in 2013 which lawmakers thought did exactly what the bill they debated Tuesday does, but it had “loopholes.” Over the years, advocates have come forward to complain that judicial and court officials are not complying with the 2013 law because they don’t consider themselves law enforcement. 

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The bill, which passed 20-15 after nearly eight hours of debate, would limit the circumstances under which law enforcement, including judicial officials, may disclose an individual’s confidential information to a federal immigration authority.

“It attempts to limit the communications we have with the federal government,” Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, the bill’s proponent, said.

That limited communication would give undocumented immigrants “trust” to come forward and interact with law enforcement and make neighborhoods safer.

“What we’re saying today is, help us fix the hole that was in that bill,” Winfield said.

The bill also allows the person who is subject to a civil detainer and their attorney know they are subject to the detainer, even if it’s not enforced.

Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said does that mean if a person is on the Terrorist Watch List or the No Fly List, they can’t be detained?

“Yes,” Winfield said.

Winfield said if immigration officials were truly concerned about the individual then they could go get a warrant from a judge and guarantee that individual is detained.

Republicans said the legislation will turn Connecticut into a “sanctuary state” at the same time as they complained the federal government and Congress haven’t done anything to deal with the immigration issue.

“I’m deeply troubled by the fact that we’re looking to make Connecticut a sanctuary state,” Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said.

“I view this as a step backwards,” Kissel added.

He said the carve-outs for the individuals under the 2013 law were “fair and balanced.”

Under the 2013 legislation, there were categories of undocumented immigrants who would not have been protected. Those categories were eliminated as part of the bill approved Wednesday morning.

Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said there are newspaper articles about crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. He held them up, but said he wasn’t going to read them all.

“They’re looking for the real bad actors,” Sampson said. “The ones who end up in these newspaper articles.”

Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, said “More people died from food poisoning from lettuce than from undocumented immigrants.”

Sen Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport, whose mother was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, said the judicial system is based on the principle that it’s better to let 10 guilty men go free than detain one innocent man.

He said the bill honors that tradition.

Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, whose father immigrated to the United States from China, said the legislation they were debating was specifically about public safety.

“We have significantly increased the standards and hampered our law enforcement officials with this bill,” Hwang said.

Hwang said he respects immigration rights and the pursuit of the American Dream but it should not come at the risk of public safety for “our citizens and undocumented residents.”

Carlos Moreno, Working Families Party organizer, applauded passage of the bill and said that state and local law enforcement are not legally required to enforce federal immigration laws.

“Yet, we know from the Connecticut judicial marshals report that exposed their abusive practices that many local authorities have been working with ICE by delaying the release of undocumented immigrants, allowing time for ICE to detain them. That’s a clear violation of the 2013 Trust Act, not to mention the Fourth Amendment and due process of law.”

He said the bill will prevent the state from being complicit with “ICE’s rogue attacks on immigrant communities across our state.”